Cycling is glorious now, but what about summer?

The keenest mountain bikers in the UAE take to night-biking when temperatures rise in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National
The keenest mountain bikers in the UAE take to night-biking when temperatures rise in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National

On Tuesday I’ll join many people taking on the challenge of riding a bicycle to work, just as I did on The National’s inaugural Cycle to Work day last year.

That bit isn't surprising – I’ve regularly cycled to work since before the first Cycle to Work day, have done so on most of the 360-odd days in between and will continue after tomorrow and into the foreseeable future.

Unlike the cyclists who are tempted by the glorious weather at this time of year, I continue to cycle through the sweaty and enervating days of midsummer, a time when most others eschew doing anything active in non-air-conditioned spaces.

But considering that my commute from my apartment to my workplace is just over one kilometre, this is considerably less heroic and noteworthy than it might sound. The ride takes about five minutes so it’s possible to be back within the chilled embrace of the air conditioning before I’ve become irrevocably sweaty.

The route also involves a combination of a car park, a very quiet minor road and the pavement, with the only main road being crossed via a pedestrian crossing at a traffic light.

Even so, it’s not a great surprise that the year-round cyclists of the UAE tend to be a stoic, determined and – in truth – somewhat stubborn lot.

Most of us tend to be experts in denial, and particularly those who cycle for fun rather than as part of a daily commute to work.

When the weather starts getting hot – and again at the other end of summer as the temperature and humidity slowly become more moderate – the weekend mountain bikers of Showka and Hatta rise long before dawn so we’re ready at first light to take to the trails before it gets too hot.

When even the dawn start becomes insufficient to mitigate the heat, we squeeze an extra few weeks at either end of the biking season by attaching piercingly bright battery-powered lights to the tops of our helmets and take to the trails by night, once the heat of the day has ebbed to something more reasonable.

I’ve dubbed these extra riding sessions at the beginning and end of summer as “denial weeks”, where the reality that it’s too hot to sensibly ride is still doing battle with the internal dialogue that insists the summer either hasn’t yet arrived or the worst of it has passed.

The process is similar to the denial that underscores the moment when the air conditioning in my apartment is turned on for the first time in March or April, knowing full well that it is unlikely to be turned off again for at least six months.

As the heat slowly builds, I endure some sweaty nights but convince myself that we’re in the midst of a short warm spell and that cooler temperatures will return. The internal dialogue goes along the lines of: “But ... but ... it can’t be summer yet!”

Until, one day, the summer finally does arrive and – usually about one sweaty week later – I reluctantly admit this isn’t just a temporary blip and the air conditioning is turned on for good.

During these “denial weeks” either side of midsummer, the different way people cope with heat manifests itself. Some people gradually wilt like a fern left on the balcony on an August day but I seem to have the tendency to operate on thresholds.

On mountain bike trips in the warmer months, I usually continue to do OK while others are suffering but then some internal thermal threshold is crossed and I suddenly go from good to NOT GOOD in what feels like a blink of an eye.

If I’m far from the car at the time, it’s a sign to find some shade to hide in while my body cools down again.

None of that will apply on tomorrow’s Cycle to Work day, of course. The weather right now is perfect for cycling and hopefully some of those who try biking to work tomorrow will consider continuing to do so even when the temperatures rise.

Published: January 10, 2016 04:00 AM


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